Who is my neighbour? The question was an attempt to justify himself so the answer Jesus gave was not what the lawyer was expecting. Samaritans and Jews had been in conflict for hundreds of years. But the story of the Samaritan as the one showing compassion was unmistakable. The only answer he could give was “the one who showed mercy”. (Luke 10:25-37)
Centuries later there is still conflict in Israel. Palestinians and Israelis avoid each other just as the Samaritans and Jews did during the time of Jesus. News of uprisings are frequent within the world news.
A few years ago I had opportunity to do a short study tour in Israel and surrounding areas. I was able to experience firsthand the conflict between the people there. My interactions with the residents indicated a sense of despair that a resolution would never be achieved.
Before I went on this trip part of my study was to read books about the people of the land. One such book was entitled The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. This fictional story describes two people who each claim the same house as their home. One is an Arab who grew up on the property that a number of generations had lived. The other is a Jewish girl whose parents obtained the house when they emigrated from Europe. A friendship developed between both of them and they worked to understand one another. Tensions still remained but their relationship helped them gain the respect of the other.
There are situations within Israel and the Palestinian territories that share similar stories and give a glimmer of hope within the conflict. One such place is Wahat al-Salam (Arabic) or Neve Shalom (Hebrew), which translated means “Oasis of Peace”. It is a community where both Jews and Muslims live together. The purpose is to get to know one another and live together in peace. Both Muslim and Jew celebrate each other’s holy days. I truly enjoyed the visit of this beautiful community where we could watch children at play together in the school yard.
Another place we visited was a Christian community where the church had opened their school to Muslims. Ironically this village is located in Samaria. The hope was that Christians and Muslims could learn from one another and in so doing gain one another’s respect. It was here that the leader of the church commented that he saw Jerusalem as the gate for peace in all the world. We as Christians should be bridge builders rather than taking sides. I left having gained a lot of food for thought.
It was fascinating to visit Mar Elias Education Institution. Another of our required texts, entitled Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour describes his desire to open a school that is open to all students. So to actually be able to see what we read about was a real privilege. Archbishop Chacour was not on campus himself, but we were able to meet with the principal of the school. He described a place where all were welcome. Presently the majority of the students were Muslim and Christian.
We were also given a tour of the church on campus. Our guide told us of a past event where a Jewish choir came to perform Handel’s Messiah to a Palestinian Christian and Muslim audience.
During this tour, our group met with many different people including Jews, Christians and Muslims who demonstrated what it meant to be a neighbour. Some of them not only working at building relationships but also helping one another during difficult times.
While we were in Israel, we saw many different types of terrain as well. This land has everything from desert to lush farmland. The city of Jericho is known for its incredible oranges and other fruit. Yet it is surrounded by desert.
It is almost a metaphor for the type of conflict that exists there. It seems to permeate throughout the land. Yet just as Neve Shalom is an Oasis of Peace within this conflict, we saw other such oases as well. With a few people intentionally striving for reconciliation, there is hope.
There is definitely a fear of the “other” whether Israeli or Palestinian. However those who took the time to get to know one another found the fear of the other diminish.
It is not hard to find conflict in any part of the world. As a Canadian, I am very aware that there are issues that cause conflict between those who live within its borders. Conflicts exist with indigenous people, with immigrants, and often with those of opposing religious views.
I would be fooling myself if I thought that Jews and Palestinians were the only ones who had conflict. Just as the lawyer wanted to justify himself as to the neighbour he should love, perhaps I am just as guilty of who deserves my help as a neighbour.
In his commentary on the passage from Luke 10, N.T. Wright indicates that the issue here has to do with how we understand the grace of God. He writes:
What is at stake, then and now, is the question of whether we will use the God-given revelation of love and grace as a way of boosting our own sense of isolated security and purity, or whether we will see it as a call and challenge to extend that love and grace to the whole world. No church, no Christian, can remain content with easy definitions which allow us to watch most of the world lying half-dead in the road. Today’s preachers, and today’s defenders of the gospel, must find fresh ways of telling the story of God’s love which will do for our day what this brilliant parable did for Jesus’ first hearers. (Wright, Luke for Everyone, 129)
It is often hard to be a neighbour in our society of individuality. We have everything we need right in our home and generally don’t ever have the need to go right next door for a cup of sugar. With the high rate of crime, we allow our fears to keep us from getting to know our neighbour. We develop the attitude that I’m right and he or she is wrong.
These intentional communities in Israel could possibly teach us something. We may think that a person is very different and so best to avoid them, but by getting to know them we will probably discover we are not so different. We can gain an understanding of why they believe what they do.
By helping my neighbour when difficulty comes, I can show myself to be a trustworthy person who truly cares about them. It could open up their willingness to hear my story of how Jesus showed me grace by offering salvation.
Will I recognize my neighbour as the one who shows mercy and then heed the words of Jesus to “go and do the same”?
Christian Mennonite Conference